42 The Calls

“Imaginative conversion of an old city centre warehouse.”

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 24th September 2006.

Leeds has changed so much since I last visited... sleek new buildings, converted warehouses and a city centre - with its network of glass-roofed, mosaic-floored Victorian arcades - that's a shopaholic's dream, including the first outpost of Harvey Nichols.

When it opened 15 years ago, 42 The Calls, five minutes' walk from the arcades, was attention-grabbing evidence of Leeds's regeneration, and the first design hotel to open in a city outside London. Would it still seem as fresh now as it did then?

An imaginative conversion of a fine 18th-century corn mill, the building bristles with heavy beams, exposed girders and cast-iron pillars, all giving robust character to the bedrooms. A generous collection of mainly contemporary, mainly very good paintings softens their masculine appearance, as does the tranquil location on the wide River Aire (though rooms near the bridge can suffer noise - the clackety-clack of high heels and post-club raucousness on Saturday nights - and urgently need double-glazing).

Bedrooms are well-equipped, almost faultlessly so, with excellent beds, ironing boards, wireless internet access, DVDs and plasma-screen TVs. And if you're like me, never decent when breakfast arrives, you'll appreciate the "privacy hatch" by each door, where trays can be left for you to collect. Rooms vary in size and are priced accordingly; if you feel like splashing out, there's a huge penthouse suite among the rafters at £395 a night.

There's no restaurant, but the one next to the hotel provides a comprehensive room-service menu, while the hotel itself offers a more limited one, from which I chose. The overflowing fruit bowl in my room gave the first clue that it would be good, and it was: a classic, properly made Caesar salad, with fresh anchovies, homemade croutons fried in olive oil and good Parmesan.

The man behind the high standards, I discovered, is Nigel Stanley, who has been in charge of catering (for breakfast, room service and a busy programme of functions) since the beginning. He's won awards for his breakfast, and I'm not surprised: served in a cosy beamed room overlooking the water, it was a positive feast. Included on the menu were kippers from Whitby; homemade waffles; 12 kinds of sausage; bread from an accredited French baker; a huge selection of homemade jams; miniature grain sacks full of brans, nuts, seeds and mueslis; and good coffee.

Everything was beautifully presented, with fresh flowers and little indivdual pots of mustards and sauces on each table. I could have done without the syrupy woman from Classic FM bending my ear as I ate, but mostly I regretted not having a more gargantuan appetite.

The food may still be good, but The Calls has had a bumpy ride in recent years. In the process, it has become a little impersonal, perhaps erratically managed, and unacceptably worn in places. Just before my stay, the staff read in a trade paper that the hotel had been sold again, and shortly afterwards the new owner visited for a couple of hours with his financial advisor to see what he'd bought. It can only be hoped that Sheik Mohamed Bin Issa al-Jaber will halt the hotel's downward slide without changing its style.

42 The Calls, Leeds (0113 244 0099; www.42thecalls.co.uk). Doubles from £85 to £395 per night; breakfast from £10.95.

The Hotel Guru verdict

4 out of 5

Very well equipped, though refurbishment, especially of windows and some carpets, is needed

2 out of 5

Prompt valet parking is a plus, but service tends to be unfocused

3 out of 5

Plenty of character in the building, but it feels more impersonal than it should

Food and drink
5 out of 5

Breakfast and room service are way above average

Value for money
4 out of 5

There are lots of offers help to keep prices fair

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